Hank Azaria was a recent guest on the Armchair Expert podcast, where he discussed several topics, including the lessons he learned from playing the controversial Apu Nahasapeemapetilon on The Simpsons.
The long-running Indian character on the iconic Fox cartoon came under fire in recent years (including in 2017 documentary The Problem With Apu) due to the character’s racially stereotypical behavior, compounded by the fact that he was voiced by a Caucasian actor.
Azaria told podcast hosts Dax Shepard and Monica Padman that he took time to learn more about what people were feeling — taking several seminars — and to understand why the character is problematic before stepping away from the role.
The actor shared several examples of interactions that had a deep impact on him.
“I was speaking at my son’s school, I was talking to the Indian kids there because I wanted to get their input,” Azaria said. “A 17-year-old … he’s never even seen The Simpsons but knows what Apu means. It’s practically a slur at this point. All he knows is that is how his people are thought of and represented to many people in this country.”
The boy, “with tears in his eyes,” Azaria said, asked the actor to tell Hollywood writers what they do matters and has ramifications on people’s lives. Azaria said he would deliver the message.
“I really do apologize,” Azaria said. “It’s important. I apologize for my part in creating that and participating in that. Part of me feels like I need to go to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologize. And sometimes I do.”
Azaria added that he is now a big proponent of people of color voicing characters of color and diversification of writers rooms.